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How to Lower Your High Cortisol Levels Like a Meditating Monk

Under: Health Library, Stress

Who do you think has the lowest levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the image below?

Not everyone can live the lifestyle of a monk or even meditate daily to control the negative effects of stress such as increased cortisol in the body. For many people, being overly busy has become a way of life and the dangers stress causes to health and longevity is often ignored.

Monk and stressed woman

Serum cortisol and total protein levels, blood pressure, heart rate, lung volume, and reaction time were studied in 52 males 20-25 years of age practicing Dhammakaya Buddhist meditation, and in 30 males of the same age group not practicing meditation. It was found that after meditation, serum cortisol levels were significantly reduced, serum total protein level significantly increased, and systolic pressure, diastolic pressure, and pulse rate significantly reduced.

Working stress relief into a busy schedule is not always an option and many busy people are often concerned with the time required to learn new stress-relieving habits such as yoga, meditation, or an exercise routine. Luckily, there are still things you can do to help relieve the symptoms of stress and reduce your cortisol levels to reduce the negative impact of stress.

If you are not sleeping well at night, have brain fog throughout the day, seem to be putting on weight, experiencing digestive upsets, and increased anxiety or mood swings,  your cortisol levels may be too high.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is our body’s built-in alarm system.  It is one of the stress hormones created by our adrenal glands, the small triangular organs on top of our kidneys. Cortisol works with certain parts of the brain to control mood, motivation, and fear. In the morning it is supposed to be higher to give you that boost to get up and get going.  However, it should drop in the evenings for you to relax and sleep well. This often does not occur appropriately in people that are constantly stressed.

The adrenal glands release cortisol in response to stress or fear as part of the body’s fight or flight response, which is a series of near-instantaneous reactions that prepare you to either stay and deal with the problem or escape to safety. The cortisol hormone triggers a flood of glucose that supplies an immediate energy source to your large muscles. It also inhibits insulin production so the glucose won’t be stored but will be available for immediate use. When the immediate threat is resolved, cortisol levels return to normal.

This is all well-and-good if you’re being chased by a tiger and want to getaway. But what about elevated cortisol levels due to everyday stress?

Millions of people simply accept stress as being a normal part of their daily life and don’t recognize the threat to their well-being. Ongoing stress that you have become accustomed to is the most dangerous kind of stress because it raises your cortisol levels and your body never receives a clear signal that the threat has passed so cortisol levels never return to normal.

What does cortisol do?

There are cortisol receptors in most cells in your body. They receive and use cortisol in different ways and your needs change from day today. Cortisol plays an important role in many bodily functions including:

  • Manages how your body uses carbohydrates, protein, and fat
  • Affects your immune function
  • Affects your inflammatory response
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Increases your blood sugar (glucose) & releases insulin
  • Controls your sleep/wake cycle
  • Boost energy so you can handle stress and restores balance afterward

What happens if you have too much cortisol?

While cortisol is important for your body to function normally, too much cortisol can be bad for your health.

Normally after the pressure or danger has passed, your cortisol level should calm down. Your heart, blood pressure, and other body systems will get back to normal.  But if you’re under constant stress and the alarm button stays on, it can derail your body’s most important functions. It can also lead to a number of health problems, including:

Why much cortisol is bad for you

If you’re under constant stress, your cortisol levels will stay elevated and can derail your body’s most important functions. It can also have many negative effects and lead to many health problems, including:

  • Increased blood sugar levels. Insulin typically helps the cells convert glucose to energy. As your pancreas struggles to keep up with the high demand for insulin, glucose levels in your blood remain high and your cells don’t get the sugar they need to perform at their best
  • Weight gain. As your cells are crying out for energy, your body may send signals to the brain that you are hungry and need to eat. Studies have demonstrated a direct association between cortisol levels and calorie intake in populations of women. False hunger signals can lead you to crave high-calorie foods, overeat and gain weight. Unused glucose in the blood is eventually stored as body fat.  Gaining weight around your abdomen especially can be an indicator that your cortisol levels are higher than we’d like, especially when you are eating healthy and “doing everything right.”

High levels of cortisol could lead to false hunger signals and overeating.

  • Suppressed immune system. Cortisol’s positive action to reduce inflammation in the body can turn against you if your levels are too high for too long. Elevated levels may actually suppress your immune system. You could be more susceptible to colds and other contagious illnesses. Your risk of cancer and autoimmune diseases increases and you may develop food allergies.
  • Digestive problems. When your body reacts to a threat, it shuts down other less critical functions, such as digestion. If the high-stress level is constant, your digestive tract can’t digest or absorb food well. It’s no coincidence that ulcers occur during stressful times and people with colitis or irritable bowel syndrome report better symptom control when they get their stress under control. Nausea, abdominal cramps, heartburn, diarrhea, or constipation may be a result of too much cortisol.  It is also important to recognize that 90% of your serotonin, your happy neurotransmitter, is produced in the gut. An imbalanced gut can lead to low serotonin, irritability, depression, and anxiety.
  • Heart disease. Constricted arteries and high blood pressure can lead to blood vessel damage and plaque buildup in your arteries. They could be setting the stage for a heart attack or stroke.
  • Sleep disruption.  Our cortisol levels are supposed to drop at night time to allow us to relax and go into a deep sleep. Chronically high cortisol levels contribute to sleep disruption.  Poor sleep leads to many chronic health problems and shortens your life span.
  • Memory and concentration problems – Studies found that elevated cortisol was associated with poorer overall cognitive functioning, as well as with poorer episodic memory, executive functioning, language, spatial memory, processing speed, and social cognition.
  • Headaches & migraines. Increased cortisol levels affect neurotransmitters, the messengers in our nervous system. When they are imbalanced, it again affects our nervous system as serotonin  GABA, and dopamine levels are too high or too low, making migraines and headaches more likely as well as anxiety and depression.

If you are experiencing daily stress and increased cortisol, consider this effective combination nutritional supplement:

A dietary supplement combining vitamins, minerals, and herbs that have proper scientific studies backing their effectiveness on cognitive function and/or reducing stress is a good place to start.  Akeso Health Sciences “Calm & Clever” contains:

(2 capsule serving)

Bacopa Monnieri (50% Bacosides)
Vitamin C
Vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate)
Pantothenic Acid
Huperzine A
Ashwagandha Extract  (KSM-66, 5% withanolides)
Sage Extract (Salvia Officinalis) (standardized 2.5% Rosmarinic acid)

Bacopa Monnieri Extract is an adaptogen that has been used in Ayurvedic traditional medicine for centuries for a variety of health-related purposes, including improving memory and reducing occasional anxiety. Bacopa health benefits are backed by innumerable scientific studies:

  • Helps alter the activity of certain enzymes involved in the stress response, suggesting that Bacopa could allow the brain to be prepared to cope with stress
  • Boosts brain function and alleviates occasional anxiety and stress
  • Promotes positive cognitive effects findings include mood, as well as a reduction in cortisol levels
  • Is commonly used as a nootropic
  • Improves memory retention
  • In a 2016 study of 60 college students, researchers found that six weeks of Bacopa (300 mg per day, as found in Calm & Clever) led to improvements in tests relating to cognitive function

LEARN MORE about the benefits of all 8 ingredients in Calm & Clever for reducing the effects of stress and living a happier, healthier life.